October 31, 2023

Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) employee Lillian Otieno will lead the department’s Emerging Farmers Office as its first director, MDA Assistant Commissioner Patrice Bailey announced today.

“Lillian Otieno has guided us through the initial stages of establishing an Emerging Farmers Office, and she is extremely well-positioned to lead our efforts to make it easier for new and emerging farmers to create or sustain successful agricultural businesses in Minnesota, as this office builds out its capacity.”

Lillian Otieno, Emerging Farmers Office DirectorOtieno, who most recently served as coordinator for the Emerging Farmers program at the MDA since 2021, has been an MDA employee since 2017. As director, she will direct the work of the Emerging Farmers Office, overseeing engagement and outreach with communities throughout the state, grant programs, and the Emerging Farmers’ Working Group.

“I am excited, energized and humbled to continue working in service to Minnesota farmers in this new role – recognizing that Minnesota is leading the charge in addressing equity in agriculture with a first of its kind office in the country,” Otieno said. “The future and success of Minnesota’s agriculture economy has to be inclusive. Emerging farmers are resilient, innovative and diverse in many aspects, with unique needs. They are most importantly, valuable contributors enhancing our local and regional food system.”

Otieno previously worked in the Produce Safety Program at the MDA, leading outreach and engagement efforts in implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act. She is a 2021 graduate of the State’s Emerging Leaders Institute, and also served as a Public Engagement Liaison with the Office of Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan in 2021 and 2022.

She will begin her new role on November 8, 2023. A search for a replacement coordinator for Otieno will begin immediately, Bailey said. The office is also in the process of hiring a grants specialist.

Bailey also announced the appointment of eight new volunteer Emerging Farmers’ Working Group members, serving two-year terms:

  • Marcus Carpenter, Hennepin County
  • Gigi DiGiacomo, Hennepin County
  • Catherine Fleming, Hennepin County
  • Cindy Hale, St. Louis County
  • Kiersten Hansen, Brown County
  • Maren McDonnell, Carver County
  • Taran Skwira, Morrison County
  • Relyndis Tegomoh, Ramsey County

The group’s purpose is to advise the MDA and Minnesota Legislature on ways to advance the success and sustainability of farmers who traditionally face barriers to the resources necessary to build profitable agricultural businesses.

Emerging Farmers are defined as women, veterans, persons with disabilities, American Indian/Alaskan Native, members of communities of color, young, LGBTQIA+, or urban farmers.

MDA staff managed a selection process that was designed to ensure geographical, racial, gender and generational diversity, along with specific targeted populations from the legislative language.

Thanks to the Working Group members concluding their terms:

  • Hannah Bernhardt, Pine County
  • Ben Dossman, Hennepin County
  • Kyle Huneke, Goodhue County
  • Murugi Mutiga, Washington County
  • Shelly Woods, Sibley County


Media Contact
Larry Schumacher, MDA Communications